Crush is a little like New Years for us. It’s the start of a new vintage; the slate is clean and hopes are high. And all our wine experiments are a little like New Year’s resolutions. Our creative juices flow with the prospect of trying out the new ideas we’ve been noodling for the past year. We have a couple pretty adventurous experiments in the works with the 2011 vintage. One that is keeping us fit is the Red Wine Barrel Fermentation.
This is not a new concept. The practice of fermenting red wine in barrel has been around for some time. The “new” is putting this high-end-wine concept to use for a wine that sell for around $15.
Normally, red wine juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks; the lees are pressed off at dryness and the wine is barreled down for aging. Tank fermentation is a very effective and very efficient way to extract flavor and color from red grapes. The advantage of going straight into barrel for fermentation is a more complete integration of the oak with the wine. It intensifies the flavor, stabilizes the color and softens the tannins. The disadvantage is that the method is laborious and time consuming. That is: expensive. One of our goals is to figure out a cost effective way to pull this off.
Ten brand new barrels were purchased for this experiment. Our first task was to pop off one of the heads of each barrel in order to shovel in the grapes. The first top was a little tricky, but our crew quickly got the hang of barrel deconstruction. We used our 2011 Lake County Cabernet for this experiment because we wanted a varietal with big tannin structure that could handle the onslaught of all that new wood. And we wanted a varietal with tight, firm clusters. That second reason was self-serving. Shoveling tight, whole clusters into an open-top barrel is much easier than trying to shovel sloppy, loose clusters. Once filled, we inoculated the barrel with yeast and closed it up.
Our second task was to mix the fermenting juice with the “cap” of grape skins and seeds. When we ferment in tanks, we pump the juice over the skins to extract color and flavor. We can’t really do that with wine locked inside a barrel. So we did the ingeniously practical thing: we rolled the barrels. Now, those barrels are really heavy and lifting them off the barrel rack and on to the ground for a good roll would have been problematic. But our crew shaved off the ends of some old barrel racks, welded a couple shaved racks together to make one long, sloped run and cozied them up to the sides of the barrels. And then just rolled the barrels off their racks. We walked the barrels up and down the run four times a day, seven days a week while fermentation was roiling. As fermentation neared completion, we rolled just once a week. Turns out this is a great upper-body work out which you can see in our video.
The barrel-fermented Lake County Cabernet will be pressed off the skins in January and put back into the same barrels. The wine tastes great at this point, the color is fantastic and flavors are complex. We’ll keep you posted on the progress.
The Palm Beach Post Swirl Girls recommended our 2007 Matchbook Tinto Rey and Extra Virgin Olive Oil in their December 16 Round-up: Reds under $20 column:
“2007 Giguiere Family Matchbook Tinto Rey, California ($17 crewwines.com) – With a deep garnet color, this blend continues the depth in its aroma of black cherry, other dark berries, dark chocolate and oak. The palate is a surprise in that there’s not as much fruit as the aroma might lead you to believe. In fact, despite that it’s a New World wine, it tastes more like an Old World with 44 percent tempranillo, 36 percent syrah, 13 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5 percent graciano and 2 percent petite syrah. The earth notes come through more than the berries, it was a bit acidic up front and finished long and dry. It’s a full-bodied, slightly tannic wine, although it did soften as the night went on. So, do yourself and the wine a favor, and let this big boy sit for an hour or more to enjoy the spicy berries and oak influences, perhaps imagining yourself picnicking amongst the hills of Spain.
Matchbook Tinto Rey Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($15 for 750 ml,crewwines.com ) – I’m not sure what constitutes proper descriptors for tasting olive oil, nor have I ever taken any tasting notes for olive oil. But when the bottle of wine sent for review from Matchbook comes with a bottle of their olive oil, well then, my duties as a Swirl Girl are extended beyond the grape. The cold-pressed oil is made from Spanish and Italian varieties grown in California, and has a deep yellow color with a green cast. It’s very fragrant, and pours from the bottle like syrup. It has good weight on the palate, a creamy texture with rich and hearty flavors, and then finishes with a pepper note. I didn’t taste the Matchbook oil against other olive oils, so I can’t say anything relative, but I can say it was delicious. I mixed it with aged balsamic vinegar for a spinach salad, and the oil coated the leaves with its flavor prominent in every bite.”
Rich Breshears, the East Oregonian Wine Guy, featured our 2007 Matchbook Tinto Rey in his December 9 column:
“The Giguiere family from Zamora, Calif. has been producing wines since 1983 under a label that they took to the moon. The R.H. Phillips brand was their baby, producing great wines such as Toasted Head and EXP. They sold to Vincor in 2000, and John Giguiere worked as CEO of Vincor until 2005.
The family started Matchbook, Mossback, Chasing Venus, and Sawbuck, which I’ve written about in other articles.
I was excited to try Matchbook’s “King,” in their 2007 Tinto Rey. This red table wine is the Giguiere’s favorite wine and I’ve been looking forward to trying it for some time. A mix of 44 percent Temperanillo, 36 percent Syrah, 13 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 percent Graciano and 2 percent Petite Syrah make this wine a huge combination of Spanish and Bordeaux varietals. The Spanish varietals give off huge flavors of spicy red berries, with black cherry and blueberry coming from the Syrah, cedar and rummy tobacco runs from the flavors of the Cabernet Sauvignon, with tannic structure and pepper coming from the Petite Syrah. This wine is beautifully complicated, with aromas and flavors from beginning to the very end of the finish. Enjoy with any kind of red meat. I followed the suggestion from the winery and made lamb pops with rosemary and garlic. It was oh so good!”
The Palm Beach Post “Swirl Girls” blog recommends our 2009 Mossback Pinot Noir! Swirl Girl says our Russian River Valley Pinot “has a long, warm finish that wrapped around me like a soft cashmere blanket”. Sigh . . .
Read the entire review
“Why aren’t you relaxing on a tropical beach someplace?” We hear that question so often we are starting to believe we must have been absent during that life lesson on what to do after you sell your winery in middle age. But faced with retirement at the end of 2005, we realized that a massive amount of free time was not our life goal. We had to face the fact that we thrived on massive amounts of stress. It was the 24-year journey that we loved; the long and bumpy ride from the threat of foreclosure to the phenomenal success of Toasted Head. We had plenty of skeptics in those early days who said we could not grow quality grapes in the Dunnigan Hills and that was motivation enough to dedicate our careers to prove that we could. Through many years of trial and error, we discovered which grape clones worked in our hills, what trellising techniques and farming practices were best for our microclimate. With each new vineyard, we tried a new idea and some worked beautifully and some failed in spectacular ways. And by the end of our tenure with R.H. Phillips, we simply were not finished with everything we wanted to do in the Dunnigan Hills. Sure, we had proven that we could grow grapes and make wine that exceeded all expectations, and on a very large scale. But we had more experiments in mind on how we could improve quality in both the vineyard and the winery. Things like seeking out new varietials and honing in on the grape clones that we knew worked well in our heat; tracking down the land with the rockiest soil to improve drainage; playing around with native yeasts, punch down bins and red wine barrel ferments at the winery to extract more complex flavors. We wanted to do all this and more and still keep our wine prices right around $15. That’s the challenge and the thrill of Matchbook. And why we are still hard at it even while we find ourselves far north of middle age. As alluring as that tropical beach sounds, it’s going to have to wait; we are still having fun creating something special here in Yolo County.